[ Chapter 7 ] [ Histories ] [ Chapter 9 ]


Probably the most widely, although not the most favorably known of Dickinson's alumni was Moncure D. Conway. Through his friendship with Andrew Carnegie he also became a liberal pecuniary benefactor to the college, Conway Hall being a perpetual reminder of the fact. The list of his books is a long one. His birthplace was Stafford county, Virginia; the year of his birth was 1832. In his early boyhood his father, followed by most of his family, left the church to which he belonged and "jined de Methodis'," to the surprise of some of his neighbors and to the dismay of others. Young Conway was only fifteen years old when he entered college, but he was under the tutelage of an older brother. He was first admitted to the Sophomore Class, but four months later was advanced to Junior. He writes in his Autobiography that the faculty of his day was not surpassed in ability by any in America. This was not the immature judgment of an undergraduate, nor of a man whose intellectual outlook never widened after he had received his diploma; but of a man of large experience and profound scholarship. Besides, he put it on record after more than fifty years of reflection. Although nominally a Methodist college, the professors had been chosen without regard to denominational preference. Mr. Conway considered Robert Emory an ideal college president. "When he called on my brother and me, I cannot remember what he said, but after he left we were ready to die for him." He regarded Professor Allen as an abler man than Whately, whose "Logic" the class was using, although Allen was only temporarily in charge of the class, owing to the death of Professor Caldwell. Allen was a native of Maine and an alumnus of Bowdoin College. For many years afterward he was president of Girard College. Spencer F. Baird, who was soon to be admitted to the company of the Immortals, both on account of his connection with the Smithsonian Institute and by his original contributions to science, was the beloved of the faculty and the ideal student. It would not be easy to praise a man more highly than Conway praises Baird and his charming family. Mr. Conway also writes that "Dr. McClintock made Greek studies interesting, and Professor Crooks had much skill in teaching Latin." Another passage from this Autobiography is interesting and instructive by reason of the inside view it gives of Carlisle's population about the middle of the century. After writing somewhat in detail of the distinguished men who lived in the city during his college days, he continues: "To me it was a revelation to find so many great men and refined ladies belonging to a sect that in Fredericksburg was in dismal contrast with the Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches." Everyone who has the slightest interest in the "Old College" and in "Old Belleaire" should read the earlier portions of this Autobiography. Few persons have the time to read the entire two volumes. The author thinks the majority of the students were from the South, and notes that a few of them occasionally went on sprees, but he opines that there were no drunkards among them.

Mrs. Dillon, a daughter of President Johnson who died in 1868, herself also recently deceased, in her partly autobiographical romance named above, dilates with almost pathetic fondness on the charming circle of which the college was the center. In later visits she made disparaging comments between the students of her girlhood days and those of the twentieth century. The latter, she declared, were neither so chivalrous nor so handsome as the heroes of the earlier time. On a few points comparisons of the past with the present may be made in favor of the former. It seems to have been assumed by both American and British teachers, until near the close of the last century that one had no need to study his mother-tongue. A great deal of attention was given to spelling in both the public and private schools; hence, when a student entered college he was supposed to have done with the spelling-book. Even dictionaries were somewhat of a rarity. The Southern students excelled in the graces of speech. It may also be said of them, and hardly less of their confreres from the North, that their English was less punctured with what may be called slang and which pervades current English to a lamentable degree, although there were no girls among the students. Athletics and war have given to most European tongues a piquancy and picturesqueness, perhaps also a vulgarity, that is altogether without precedent. As the sciences, broadly speaking, except mathematics, received comparatively little attention, much time was left for reading after the recitations had been prepared, and it was generally well used. The writer is in position to know that a new book was often discussed by the students, to which attention had not been drawn by any member of the faculty. Are twentieth century students ever "guilty" of wasting their time on a book for which they cannot expect credits? There were comparatively few monthly magazines, and probably far fewer newspapers, including all daily and weekly publications, than are issued at present. At this day more people, far more, read in order not to be put to the trouble of thinking that for the purpose of stimulating thought. There were very few non-academic activities, and none that were official. There was virtually no systematic instruction in English composition, but an occasional essay or oration was required. Skill in writing cannot be taught by any pouring-in or smearing-on process; the urge must come from within. It must be a fountain of living water. On the other hand, men who were on familiar terms with both the earlier and later generation of students will not agree in all respects with Mrs. Dillon's panegyrics. Although the students from the South almost without exception displayed a certain kind of gallantry — and there may have been no change in this respect in the intervening years — in their intercourse with the gentler sex, that was lacking in some of their peers from the North, the latter were no less gentlemen in reality. A man may make a brilliant appearance in a drawing-room and be a rake none the less.

In view of the disparaging contrast made by Mr. Conway in his autobiography between the Methodist people and the two older religious bodies, it should be noted that this difference was not due to colleges but to other causes. Most of the southern states made a brave start toward higher education during the closing years of the eighteenth century, but few of them got more than a start until after the close of the sectional war. William and Mary never advanced far, and the University of Virginia, notwithstanding the fostering care of Mr. Jefferson, long remained a small college, although its faculty contained some men of large mental caliber. In 1846 it had only about 150 students. The early Methodists, like the Quakers and the Moravians, were in favor of schools but not of colleges. As early as 1779, John Dickens, a former Eton boy, interested himself in the establishment of an academy in North Carolina. Coke, although an Oxford man, can hardly be said to belong to American Methodism. At least one Methodist college was founded in the eighteenth century. In 1786 Asbury writes that Cokesbury College is now "fit for covering," with a debt of nine hundred pounds hanging over it. After it had burned down, he writes that it represented a sacrifice of about ten thousand pounds. "Would any man offer me ten thousand pounds per year to do and suffer what I have done and suffered for that house, I would not take it. The Lord called not Whitefield nor Methodists to build colleges. I wish only for schools; Dr. Coke wanted a college. I feel distressed at the loss of the library." Evidently, while not approving of the project, he gave much thought and labor towards its realization. He interested himself in the planting of schools in half a dozen southern states; the fact that most of them were failures proves that such institutions were in advance of public opinion.

Bishop Asbury formulated a system of higher education for his church that was intended to cover the entire country, but it was put into operation very slowly for obvious reasons. Although the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians had a long lead of the Methodists, they did not maintain it. The former have no outstanding college in Pennsylvania, and perhaps none in the West or South. Kenyon was one of the early educational projects in Ohio, but it was feebly supported, and probably never had two hundred students. The college at Wooster belongs to the post-war period. Albeit, the financial resources of these two denominations probably exceed those of any others. As several men among the early Methodists were educated in colleges under the auspices of other denominations, they certainly did not cast in their lot with the Methodists from mercenary motives. Albeit, probably more Methodists went into other religious bodies than took the reverse course.

Beginning with the third decade of the nineteenth century, there was a veritable "uprush" of enthusiasm among the leading spirits of American Methodism, both in the North and in the South. In about a dozen years almost or quite a dozen colleges and academies, including Dickinson and Alleghany, were chartered or taken over, and a number of academies started. Some of these eventually went out of existence for lack of support, but most of them still survive. Were not Bishop Asbury's educational ideas sound? Universities are of limited use unless there are also preparatory schools. A dozen, or perhaps a score of young people go to a preparatory school for one who goes to a college or university. Spain has had her universities from "of old," yet Spain is one of the most illiterate countries of Europe. The University of Lima was founded several decades before Harvard, but who was ever benefited by the University of Lima?

There is at present no known reason for the choice of the name Cumberland; but after the name of the county had once been decided upon that of the county-seat followed as a matter of course. Why English names were given to the first American counties in Pennsylvania is easily explained; but why a certain name should be selected rather than others is not clear. Three northern counties furnished a number of immigrants who were as much Scotch as English: hence Cumberland, Northumberland and Westmoreland. From the beginning of the strife that ended in the parting of the mother and daughter, names were rarely brought oversea. If there is any doubt as to how and by whom the name Cumberland was brought into Pennsylvania, there is none whatever as to the person who brought the name of the college to Carlisle. The charter specifies that: "In memory of the great and important services rendered to his country by His Excellency, John Dickinson, Esq., President of the Executive Council (Governor of the State), and in commemoration of his very liberal donations to the institution, the said college shall forever hereafter be called and known by the name of Dickinson College." The term "forever" was doubtless inserted in the charter because its framers were convinced that no benefactor would ever appear on the scene with a donation that would surpass the first in amount and thus make a change advisable. This little word throws an interesting sidelight on the mental horizon of representative Americans at the close of the Revolution. Dickinson's gifts comprised two hundred acres of land in York county, five hundred in Cumberland county, and a selection of books from his library. The land donated was estimated to be worth rather less then a pound an acre at the time the donation was made. For the first two centuries after the first settlement of this continent by white men, not much money was needed to buy much glory, when it was given for the founding or enlarging of a college, or a "university" as has been shown elsewhere. Besides Dickinson we need only mention Harvard, Yale, Brown, Rutgers, and the Ohio University. After this primitive period it required at least half a million dollars to accomplish the same result. Perhaps, however, the earliest donations were relatively more liberal than those of later date, considering the financial ability of the donors. What crude, almost childish, ideas about financing an institution of learning men had, even after the middle of the nineteenth century, is strikingly shown by the fact that shortly after 1850 the management of Dickinson College authorized the issuance and sale of four-year scholarships for twenty-five dollars. A scholarship for ten years could be purchased for fifty dollars, and one for twenty-five years cost one hundred dollars. Whatever may have been the necessities of the case, it was wretched financiering. When these scholarships began to be offered for tuition, students brought in no money except a small fee for incidentals and for subjects not in the course when they were issued. More than one college in Pennsylvania was forced to close permanently because it had been built on sand, generally called scholarships, and the floods in the shape of debts wrecked it. Others changed hands, but not always did they change financial wisdom for short- sightedness. Farther west the wrecks were even more numerous. The growth of Carlisle was for a time comparatively rapid. In 1795 it was the choice of the House for the capital of the state. In the following year it was again voted on, but was defeated by Lancaster, owing to the repeated disagreement of the Senate. The places voted for shows that Pennsylvania consisted chiefly of a few corner lots.

The second name on the original list of forty trustees is Henry Hill. It may be passed over as unimportant. The third name is that of James Wilson. Like his friend, John Dickinson, he was somewhat reluctant to take the final step that led to the break with the mother country. Mr. Wilson was also a Scotchman by birth. At the University of Edinburg he was a favorite of High Blair because of his marked ability. After coming to this country he read law with Mr. Dickinson, and for a time practiced in Philadelphia and later in Carlisle. In 1777 he removed to Annapolis, and a year later settled in Philadelphia. When the Marquis of Chastellux was in that city he was surprised at the size of Mr. Wilson's library and the extent of his learning. Of the fifty-five delegates to the Constitutional Convention, Wilson is generally regarded as the best prepared by his knowledge of history and of the science of government for the work before that body. No other member, except Madison and Morris, spoke so often and so well. Soon, however, party spirit began to run high, as it always does in time of political and social upheaval, and Wilson was much berated for never being on the popular side, a railing accusation that was hurled time and time again at Dickinson. He was, however, appointed one of the first Justices of the Supreme Court by Washington, a position which he held at the time of his death at the comparatively early age of fifty-six. In his later years he became involved in financial difficulties through sundry land speculations, and in order to avoid arrest was obliged to exchange circuits with Judge Iredell. That he was guilty of illegal acts does not appear to have been established. His body was laid to rest at Edenton, North Carolina, where it remained for one hundred and eight years; then his remains were brought to Philadelphia and interred by the side of his wife.

The fourth name on the original list of trustees is William Bingham, who was also a Philadelphian. Although an Episcopalian, he subscribed four hundred pounds to the funds for the college, a sum that seems ridiculously small when we consider that he was regarded as the wealthiest man in his native city, and perhaps in the state. Mr. Bingham was a United States Senator for one term, beginning with 1795.1

The fifth name on the list is that of Benjamin Rush, M.D., also known as the American Hippocrates, the American Sydenham, and the Father of American Medicine. He was born in 1745 and received his degree from the College of New Jersey at the age of fifteen. After graduating at the University of Edinburg, he settled in his native city, where he resided to the end of his days. What was called "medicine" in those days was a comparatively simple matter, and Dr. Rush being of an active temperament and greatly interested in the public welfare, took a leading part in the affairs of his native city and even of his native state. His radical views on the effects of alcohol on the human system have given him a unique place in the history of American medicine, and in fact of medical science in general. There is still in existence one of his letters, in which he expresses confidence that "Dickinson College will one day become the sun of light and knowledge in the western part of the United States." Dr. Rush's west was, or is, one hundred miles inland from Philadelphia.

It seems to have been the custom of the first trustees, and of their successors for many years afterwards, to draft into service almost all the prominent men far and near. The names of two Blaines, Ephraim and Robert, appear among the early members of the board. The forerunner of the clan in this country was named James. With his wife, Isabella, and their son Ephraim, he came to America from the north of Ireland shortly after 1745. He was evidently a man of means. After sojourning for some time at Lancaster and Carlisle, the little group moved into what is now Perry county, and founded the village still called Blain. Members of this large family remained in the same region for many years and often visited Carlisle. Albeit, the boys who went to college betook themselves to Washington, where James G. received his diploma in 1847 at the age of seventeen. The distance from western Perry county to the southwestern section of Pennsylvania is not a long one, and the journey, in those days, would not be considered difficult. We have seen that Dr. Cutler passed over much of this route. There are said to have been four boys named Ephraim Blaine at Washington College at the same time. Evidently the family was not only in comfortable financial circumstances, but also patrons of the higher learning. There was, however, one prominent Cumberlandian whose name does not appear among Dickinson's trustees, namely Robert Whitehill. He resided a few miles west of Harrisburg and from 1774 to the date of his death, 1818, was almost constantly in the public service.

It is impossible, at this time, to discover the ultimate cause of the irregular attendance of the students at Dickinson for almost five decades after the beginning of operations. These conditions have been referred to more than once in this volume. To put the case succinctly, the proximate cause was the almost uninterrupted strife between the students and the faculty; what is not known is why the strife should be more acrimonious at Carlisle than elsewhere, as it seems to have been. Although students in Scotland were by no means all lambs, it is probable that Principal Nisbet found an exceptionally large number of wild goats in his cis-Atlantic flock. At times the college was closed, at least no students are reported. The tradition or report was brought to Carlisle by an elderly man in the sixties, that James Buchanan had been suspended, having also been one of those students who had not received their diplomas in regular order. The same man also reported that Mr. Buchanan, some years later, in a speech to the members of his society, exhorted them to conduct themselves decently and in order. In this case, the young man who later became President, did but follow or anticipate the example of most college graduates. Rarely does an "old college boy" address a body of undergraduates without warning them against wasting their time as he had done, and exhorting them to act more wisely. It is doubtful if such fatherly and motherly advice is ever profited by. Usually those who need it will not take it, while those who take it do not need it. Hindsight has very sharp eyes; Foresight is almost blind. The frequent collision between students and faculty in the olden time was really a struggle between the forces of expression and repression. Most of the students were convinced of their own importance and sensitive in the matter of personal dignity. A majority of American college boys belonged to the Ancient but not always Honorable Order of Recalcitrants, and most of them were careful not to prove unfaithful to their title. It it not often that young men know what youth is until they have got beyond its period. Not infrequently young people have to make up, after they receive their diplomas, for the time previously frittered away. Yet, in a sense, this can never be done. Time lost is lost forever. On the other hand, the college grind is not usually the most successful man afterwards.

Why this apparently almost uninterrupted strife, between faculty and students and trustees should cease, as it seems to have done, after the control of the college passed into the hands of another religious body, is a question to which no definite answer can be given at this time. When we read that for almost the average of a man's life, according to the usual reckoning, the logomachies at Dickinson continued, we are prompted to ask whether all the undergraduates belonged to the class that John Bunyan would have called Diabolonians. After 1836, in which year there is only one year in which the graduates are represented by one figure, and the students as nineteen. Readers are, however, mistaken when they interpret the term "class" as it is now understood. It did not have the same meaning during the entire history of the college. There were no "classes" until 1796, when the students were divided into Freshmen, Juniors and Seniors. This must be regarded as a logical division. The Sophomore class was added in 1808. The origin of this appellation nobody appears able to account for. It is not known in Europe.

1 "Americana" for April 23, 1923, contains a brief biography of William Bingham and also a portrait. Among other enterprises in which he was engaged, he was the founder of Binghampton, New York. The brief passage quoted from said article shows the wealth and sagacious foresight of the man, but no mention is made of his philanthropy. What he would have done had he lived longer is a matter of conjecture, as he died at the comparatively early age of fifty-two years. "Of other titled and blue-blooded persons allied to the Bingham children by marriage several readable chapters might be written. Much information about them may be found in Burke's Peerage. Senator Bingham's remote descendants — they are all now English or French — have profited enormously by his land purchases, and it is interesting to know that seventy or eighty years after his death they began to get large sums from Pennsylvania oil fields, as well as from lands in Mount Desert." The Bingham estates furnishes a fine text for a sermon, or indeed for several, on the unearned increment. It may also be added that considerable portions of this book appeared in the above mentioned fine quarterly a few years ago.

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